Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Taft Richardson Jr.: Bones spoke to artist

TAMPA — Before the bones found new life, Taft Richardson Jr. carried them in his pockets.

He gently caressed the remains of chickens, turkeys, cats, house rats. He thought about the life lost. He waited for divine intervention to take his next step.

When it hit, he'd piece the bones together smoothly with a mix of paste and crushed bone. A crucifix emerged from cat, pig and cow bones. A crane came from a rooster, a raccoon, a dog. There were fish, a cobra, a lizard, even the head of John the Baptist.

"Bones, man,'' he told the St. Petersburg Times in 2006. "It's like I can keep the animal alive if I make something out of his bones, a-huh. The bones aren't dead to me, a-huh. Sometimes I can pick up a bone and the vibe is so strong I got to put it down, man. Something about bones is sacred to me.''

His sculptures, he said, were resurrections.

• • •

Mr. Richardson, a well-known Tampa folk artist, community volunteer and teacher, died Sunday after a battle with prostate cancer. He was 65.

He was born in Zephyrhills and grew up in Tampa. His father worked on cars and built boats, and his mother was known as a talented herbal healer.

Young Taft always played with bones, but he never understood why. Then, in his early 20s, he polished off a plate of beef ribs. In the bony remains stacked high, he saw a giraffe. It was God leading him to his calling, he later said.

Eventually, he swore off meat and killing of any kind, refusing even to squash a bug. He began collecting bones from farms or road kill on the street, letting nature clean them in his back yard. Sometimes, friends donated scraps from dinner.

His early work was dark tan, covered in varnish. Later, he left the bones a natural color. He was a strong Christian, and the works were often based in the Bible with names like Stepping Out On Truth — You Must Be Born Again, Watch and Pray and Within My Aura.

"I've been studying folk art for 30 years, and I would say he was one of, if not the most extraordinary folk artists I've ever met because the meaning of his work is so amazingly powerful," said Kristin Congdon, a University of Central Florida professor who featured Mr. Richardson in a book she co-authored, Just Above the Water: Florida Folk Art. "When you met him, his work became even so much more powerful. You understood what bones meant to him and you understood the love it took."

• • •

Mr. Richardson had 10 children and 35 grandchildren. Hundreds more young people felt his impact.

He devoted his life to getting at-risk kids off the street and inspired by something creative. He ran several organizations teaching them to paint, sculpt, dance and grow plants. They frequented his home in Tampa's Spring Hill neighborhood, sculpting little works from bones or painting rainbow designs on the walls.

"If the child can walk, he can dance,'' Mr. Richardson once told the St. Petersburg Times. "If he can color with a crayon, he can paint. … It's a struggle, man, from the womb to the tomb. We have to take care of our children.''

They responded to his gentle nature, his long white beard, his stories of personal inspiration. They called him "Granddaddy." They called his home the Garden of Eden. "He was simple. He didn't have much, but what he did have to spread around was love," said his granddaughter, Sharita Moultry, 28. "He always wanted to show children that there is a way out of no way."

Until a month before he died, he frequented a Tampa community center teaching kids art, physical fitness, fashion design, crafts. "These are kids that he felt society had not cared about," said Congdon. "That they had been tossed away like old bones."

His job was to resurrect them.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

BIOGRAPHY

Taft Richardson Jr.

Born: Sept. 2, 1943.

Died: Nov. 30, 2008.

Survivors: 10 children; 35 grandchildren; wife, Estella Richardson. Predeceased by wife, Rosa Moultry.

Taft Richardson Jr.: Bones spoke to artist 12/02/08 [Last modified: Thursday, December 4, 2008 11:49am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Kriseman invites Steph Curry to St. Pete on Twitter

    Blogs

    Mayor Rick Kriseman is no stranger to tweaking President Donald Trump on social media.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman took to Twitter Saturday evening to wade into President Donald Trump's latest social media scuffle
  2. Death toll, humanitarian crisis grow in Puerto Rico

    World

    SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A humanitarian crisis grew Saturday in Puerto Rico as towns were left without fresh water, fuel, power or phone service following Hurricane Maria's devastating passage across the island.

    Crew members assess electrical lines in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria on Friday in Puerto Rico. Mobile communications systems are being flown in but “it’s going to take a while.”
  3. N. Korea says strike against U.S. mainland is 'inevitable'

    World

    North Korea's foreign minister warned Saturday that a strike against the U.S. mainland is "inevitable" because President Donald Trump mocked leader Kim Jong Un with the belittling nickname "little rocketman."

  4. All-eyes photo gallery: Florida State Seminoles loss to the N.C. State Wolfpack

    News

    View a gallery of images from the Florida State Seminoles 27-21 loss to the N.C. State Wolfpack Saturday in Tallahassee. The Seminoles will face Wake Forest on Saturday, Sept. 30 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

    Florida State Seminoles fans sing the fight song during the Florida State Seminoles game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack on September 23, 2017, at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla.  At the half, North Carolina State Wolfpack 17, Florida State Seminoles 10.
  5. Helicopter, small aircraft collide at Clearwater Air Park

    News

    CLEARWATER — Two people suffered minor injuries after a helicopter and a small aircraft collided late Saturday afternoon at Clearwater Air Park, 1000 N Hercules Ave.

    Clearwater Fire Department emergency personal douse a plane with fire retardant after the plane crashed into a helicopter at Clearwater Air Park 1000 N Hercules Ave. Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017. According to Clearwater Fire two people sustained minor injuries. [Photo by Clearwater Fire Department]